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"Ger" (Stranger/Convert)

"Leh Leha, get yourself out of your country, away from your kin and out of your father's house". Much has been written about the order of these words. Why does it not progress from the particular "your father's house" to the general? What is the significance of the three different places from which Avram is instructed to leave? Why is Avram told to leave in the first place? How does Avram's sojourning differ from what Terah, his father, was doing? (Genesis 11:31; 'And Terah took Abram his son and Lot... and they went forth with them from Ur ..., to go to the land of Canaan').

There are many possible ways to find relevance in this simple, yet, powerful opening line. What strikes me today is that it is clear that Avram is a "ger", a convert to Judaism. (Well, OK Judaism really didn't yet exist, but the idea is that he is the first of the line of people who will come to be known as Jews). But to be more precise, the word "ger" really means 'stranger'. What makes Avram a "ger" is that he sets forth on a journey outward bound from his parent's home.

In many ways, it seems to me, today we are very much like Avram. We too are "gerim", strangers, on a journey. Our journey is also one that takes us out from our parent's homes, away from our extended families, and often to a new and and strange land. Along the way we will be tested and challenged. (The sages say that Avram was tested ten times). Perhaps, too, like Avram, we will have the opportunity on our journey to learn from great teachers from different religious backgrounds. (See 14:18-20 where Avram is greeted by Malki-Tzedek, King of Shalem.) Our sages, once again, say that Avram learned how to make a blessing from him.

In a subtle way this parsha teaches us another point about journeying and the experience of being a stranger. First, to experience what it means to be a "ger" (i.e., stranger/convert) is not necessarily a by-product of leaving your location. Terah, Avram's father, left his home in Ur, but is not a stranger/ convert. He left home but he did not, it would seem, set out on a spiritual journey in the way that his son Avram did. Second, the state of being a 'ger' is dynamic and fluid. By the time we get to the end of the parsha, Avraham (note the name change) is now settled spiritually, though not at all physically. He is still a nomad. How do we know this? The name of the handmaid of Sarah teaches us this. Her name is Hagar, literally "The stranger/convert". The status of being the stranger has shifted from Avraham to this woman. In short, the condition of being the outsider is relative.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah